Ropecon play report 2 – Blowing up (portions of) a pyramid

16 August, 2008 at 8:27 pm (actual play, game mastering) (, )

My first planned con game that was to involve a bunch of vikings did not happen. This one had six out of five places full. Two did not appear, however, which I do not find to be particularly courteous behaviour.

Players: Niko, Samu, Tomi, and either Samuli or Mikko. I had not met any of them before this game. Total strangers. Tomi (IIRC) had experience with Spirit of the Century and other indie/Forgish games (and dislikes Burning Wheel, the fool). Other players generally played D&D, with various amounts of experience divided among the other traditional roleplaying games.

(The lack of) preparation

My preparation for this game consisted of writing character sheets. In addition, I had run something similar before.

To the players I first made clear that I do not have a map prepared. They can add details. They can add stuff that is appropriate to the setting.

The players and their characters

Tomi was playing Dorian Faust, a british detective. Niko was playing André Menard (Hello Phil.), an incredibly lucky French adventurer of noble blood. Samu was playing Djazdah, an arabian priest ( Samuli/Mikko was playing Adelino Schnoor, a German explorer and now a madman due to having visited the pyramid once before.

If I get the names wrong, which is not impossible, pardon and please notify me of the error.

Of the players Tomi and Niko were very good, Tomi having experience with this kind of gaming and Niko presumably just being a good player. Samuli/Mikko, who had power to add all sorts of stuff to the fiction was reluctant to do so. He did seem to enjoy playing a plotting character, but did not do actual scheming. More revelling in knowing a secret. I hope he enjoyed his play. Samu was okay, not particularly active, but did play his part and contribute. He is what I would call a normal player playing with people he does not know in a style he is unfamiliar with. On reflection, that’s pretty good, given the circumstances.

Each character could do something, mistrusted someone (though not necessarily directly), and was looking for a particular object that would grant miraculous power, if acquired. To my shame I forgot that mister Faust was looking for a book. Others I did remember.

The rules

Characters have a number of traits. Trait gives one or two dice in relevant situations. Environment may roll some dice. Each die generates a success with probability 1/2 (even result means success, odd does not). Traps, in general, deal a minor effect in case of tie and major results when they win.

The dice pool approach does not work when there are this few dice being rolled. They were kind of boring. Using a flat d6+modifiers would have been more elegant, I presume. Alternatively, more dice.

The fiction

History: There’s this pyramid that has just been unearthed. It is somewhere in Egypt, pretty far from everything. Previous explorers are dead or mad. Disappeared they have, either way. The only exception being mister Schnoor, a German explorer now, mad (but not disappeared; death is disputable).

A party of adventurers including the aforementioned player characters and few NPCs (the remaining PC is also an NPC, but I play hims as a passive follower, which is something of a mistake). There’s also a bunch of slaves servants carrying things and so on. (Quoth Mister Faust: “There is no slavery in the British empire…”)

Game starts as the characters arrive to the pyramid. Blowing up things immediately becomes the favoured way of making progress inside the pyramid. (Räjämiittiä galore.) There are dead ends, traps, exploration and explosions. The servants run away or die, a few at a time. One fake throne room, too. It becomes increasingly obvious that the pyramid is not entirely of Egyptian construction. A key is found in the fake throne room. (I gave one player the map and asked him to email it to me, but he probably forgot or misplaced the address. It is quite characteristic of the maps I draw: Messy, sketchy, disposable.)

The climax happens behind a sealed door. The German guide won’t go there (the player’s idea, not mine, but a necessary one). Mister Faust goes to investigate it, remarkably fails the relevant roll, and next there are poison needles piercing his arm. Ouch. There’s fast necrosis and mister Faust goes back to the jeeps, searching for remedy. His arm actually starts slowly melting.

Mister Menard opens the door and happens to do so via a nontrapped switch. A short corridor and there’s a large room constructed of arbitrarily shaped slabs of stone. There are some stone walls, evidently of no purpose whatsoever, and part of the floor and wall is seamless metal. There’s a huge pedestal with some chains connecting it to the roof. There are lots of holes that could fire spears or arrows or darts or snakes. Some testing reveals traps. Many traps. Mister Menard charges right through the room to the pedestal, miraculously avoiding all the traps. He tries climbing atop the pedestal, marginally succeeds, and a horde of scorpions (IIRC) floods the place. Next attempt gets him up the pedestal, where a bunch of stuff, including stuff everyone was looking for, is discovered (excluding the book I forgot).

Djazdah runs away from scorpions and is pierced and killed by all the traps in the real treasure room. Menard, while climbing atop the pedestal, triggered various other traps and swarm after swarm of creatures sweep the dead Djazdah, leaving nothing but the skeleton.

Monsieur Menard equips the stuff on the pedestal, gets down and runs through the trapped area. Schnoor begs for the crown, but Menard does not quite feel like giving it up. The djinn inhabiting/being Schnoor creates an illusory tendril of molten metal reaching for Menard, who burns his hand and then notices that it is not quite real. Another similar tendril appears and reaches for Djazdah’s skeleton, and a djinn formed of one skeleton and some semi-liquid metal is created. Menard runs. The new djinn destroys the one who was once Schnoor.

Menard reaches the jeeps (and confirms that yes, Faust has indeed lost an arm and no, it is not a very realistic illusion). The two drive away. The djinn creates a sandstorm, car crashes, which puts an effective end on the escape attempt.

The djinn catches the escapees. It is not formed of solid metal (not unlike certain characters in Terminator 2+). Some fighting and TNT later mister Faust has both the key and one of the items and essentially gets three wishes. After using those the key is dropped and monsieur Menard gets it and has the audacity to wish for more wishes. Game over, endless loop of wishes achieved.

Pacing

This was the first convention game I have ever GM’d. This particularly means that the pacing sucked. Most of the game was inconsequental filler (other examples of it: many encounters in random D&D adventures), which often did promote interesting dialogue, but was boring in and of itself. There were a few traps, lots of dynamite, and so on. The total game time was around 3 hours and 15 minutes, out of four hours the game slot took. Oh well…

Summary

I certainly enjoyed running this game. I’d go as far as to say that I had fun. Two of the players liked this game enough to come to my other game.

Be that as it may, the game was technically pretty bad. Pacing sucked, there was too much filler and the structure of the game was not very good. Given that the game was enjoyable, does it matter? Personally, I think that the game would have been even better if it had gone better, so, my answer is that yes, it does matter.

Also: The noise level was sufficiently high that I had to speak pretty loud. It almost hurt. Not quite. Sore throat, but nothing that stopped me from running another game.

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